It’s Time to Get Real About Your Family

Britt East
12 min readOct 2, 2019

Moving from self-shame to self-love

For those of us cast aside because of our sexual or gender orientation, “family” can be a loaded word. Once excised from the tapestry of our origins, who are we? How do we make our way in the world alone, when the template of our lives is either missing or half-complete? Whose then are we? Where do we then turn when we reach for home? For intergenerational wisdom and consolation? Is it fair or realistic to expect friends to fill that void? Do we hire therapists to raise us? To sit with our grief and unattended shame? If so, for how long? If family is meant to embody love without end, where do we turn in its absence? To whom do we cling?

In the absence of family, sometimes we wrap ourselves in the cocoon of primary relationships. Finding a lover, and then getting too attached too fast. Usually to the wrong person. The allure of our love quickly becomes fetid. Rife with codependency and enmeshment. Ripe for abuse and rejection. Other times in the absence of family we hide from the world. Keeping everyone at arm’s length in some misguided attempt at self-protection. To prevent the repeat of that core woundedness. Knowing that the world is profoundly unsafe. And that people are not to be trusted.

Even if we have a family that embraces and celebrates our identity, the world can be a cold and cruel place for GBTQ men. Our loved ones might be shining beacons of light, but into what dark void? How far can this love truly carry us in the face of bigotry and hate? How can we thrive with so many cards stacked against us? The reality is that depending on our age or location, many of us likely hold all sorts of limiting beliefs. Self-censor our dreams. Narrowcast. Start to believe their stories about us.

So what are we to do about family? How do we heal and become whole? And at what cost? These are the big questions in which (as GBTQ men) many of our ideas about family reside. They are questions meant to be lived, not answered. Continuously examined. Turned over again and again in gentle curiosity. In honorable meditation and noble silence. As we give back to our community. Seek to serve our brothers. Make their way in the world a little less onerous.

When it comes to your biological family, I encourage you to follow your inspired heart and intuition. Reach for them when you long for them. When you miss something that only they can provide. When you want to tap into the full story of your family tree. Or experience being part of the whole. But remember this: your love is a precious gift and your time is sacred. You need not maintain relationships with anybody. You don’t owe anyone a thing. I don’t care if they paid for college, or went to your band concerts. It doesn’t matter if they hosted your sleepovers or changed your diapers. True love never incurs a debt, especially when it comes to love received as children. Operating out of guilt or obligation is a quick way to derail your sanity. And family drama is just a euphemism for family resentment. You win no gold stars by demonstrating how much you can endure.

For GBTQ men chosen families have been a lifeline for centuries. A replacement for all that was stolen from so many of us. A support system of our own making. Many of the member of our chosen family are former lovers. Others are longtime friends. Many are straight. There are in fact no rules. Which is what makes it feel so liberating. But be careful: the empowered selection of our brothers and sisters rights no wrongs and won’t heal all wounds.

In our current age of planned obsolescence, relationships can seems disposable as well. And it seems like in some cases the ties that bind are often based on genetics. My point is not that there is anything inherently lacking in chosen families. They are beautiful and necessary. My point is that they are something wholly different than a family of origin. That any harm or woundedness must be met head-on for real healing to occur. Time will not heal those wounds. Nor the incredible people you choose to love and surround yourself with.

Families don’t need children as validation. While many long to raise children as an expression of hope and love, others do not. Neither choice is more valid or honorable than the other. There are so many ways for GBTQ men to have children in our lives. Raising them directly is just one of those ways. There are many men who now identify as gay, bisexual, or queer that have biological children resulting from heterosexual relationships. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and these families are no less intrinsically valid, loving, or successful than any other family. When it comes to bringing children into GBTQ homes, there are now more options than ever: fostering, adoption, surrogacy, etc. Of course this doesn’t mean the road is free of obstacles and challenges. But we are certainly blessed beyond what any of our elders could have ever dreamed.

In some quarters nothing seems to elicit more panic than placing children in families with GBTQ men. But the truth is families come in all shapes and sizes, and that diversity is a strength. What better way to prepare children for our pluralistic society than to grant them access to loved ones from all walks of life? GBTQ men often make excellent candidates for adoption placement for many reasons, not the least of which is their presumptive passion when entering the adoption process. Unlike for many heterosexual parents, adoption is often the first choice of GBTQ men when it comes to having children. Nevertheless, GBTQ men have and deserve the same rights as all other members of society.

While there are currently no federal laws in the US explicitly preventing GBTQ men (either single men or same-sex couples) from adopting a child, please do your research. In the US all laws are dynamic, and continuously subject to a variety of legal challenges from any number of angles. In certain cases, there might also be state and local laws, statutes, or policies which could complicate your adoption journey. And that’s to say nothing of the various agency practices on the ground which might severely impact your efforts. It is critical you get informed so you can be as empowered as possible to advocate for you and your family.

Above all else, government agencies seek to reunite children with members of their biological family. So the very fact that a child is available for adoption either means there is no family, the family has chosen to place them into adoption, or a government agency has deemed the family lacks the capacity to raise the children themselves. In some cases children enter the adoption process after sustained abuse or neglect, which can lead to learning disabilities, attachment disorders, or developmental disabilities. This is where some GBTQ men might have a parenting advantage. Many GBTQ men know what it’s like to be different. To grow up with additional challenges. That means some enter the adoption process with a greater level of empathy, understanding, and resiliency, which they can use for the betterment of their parenting skills. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that as a GBTQ man you are somehow intrinsically unqualified to be a parent.

When you contact an adoption agency seeking to enter the adoption process, you can expect them to send you to some classes, where you will learn more about the process, hear general information about typical adoptees, and get the chance to meet other prospective adoptive parents. You will then likely complete an in-depth initial application, on which you will be interviewed. During this interview, the screeners will try to assess your overall fitness, as well as your potential ability to provide positive therapeutic parenting (that type of parenting that creates feelings of safety in traumatized children). Nobody expects you to be an expert; they are just assessing your aptitude, affinity, passion, and stability for loving a child who has likely been through a tough time.

In most cases, your initial application and the screeners’ comments will comprise your official adoption application. You will then have to go before an official adoptive parent approval panel to discuss your application. You can expect lots of tough questions, especially as (a) GBTQ prospective parent(s). It would not be unusual to be asked to discuss your current and anticipated support structure, your financial stability, your approach to parenting children of different genders, and potentially how you would parent children of different races and ethnicities. These are purposefully tough questions, not to trick you or catch you off guard, but because this is meant to be a sacred, soul-searching process.

Your ability to parent is not constrained by your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. GBTQ men can do everything that straight men can do. Feminine men can father as well as masculine men. And dads can do just about everything that moms can do. But there is another dynamic here that is important to acknowledge. If you are a GBTQ man or couple adopting a female child, you will need additional support. Most men do not have a female perspective on the world — what it’s like to navigate the world, when the world perceives you as female. For instance, other than some trans men, most men have never had a menstrual cycle. Most men have no idea what it’s like to communicate with women, when men are not in the room. Having a diverse support network is crucial. You can turn to women for advice, and ask they spend time with your children. These extended chosen family members can be huge assets in your child’s life. Trying to do this alone is a disservice to everyone.

The same is true for anyone adopting a child of a different race or ethnicity. You can absolutely have a beautiful experience and raise a wonderful family by adopting outside your race or ethnicity. But it will require more love, awareness and (in some cases) navigating a more complex legal path, especially if it involves adopting a child from a different country. Here are some things you will need to think long and hard about:

  • If you are a white man or couple, who is going to teach your child how to live in a racist world?
  • Does your support network contain enough racial diversity to support your child’s growth and experience?
  • Have you spent time with children with different races or ethnicities?
  • As a white person/couple are you ready for the bigotry your family is likely to encounter? Especially since it is unlikely that you have ever personally experienced racial animus…
  • If you are a person or couple of color (or a couple of mixed race or ethnicities) adopting a child the world perceives as white, are you ready to endure all new flavors and levels of racism?
  • Does your adoptive child speak English? Or do you speak their native language? If not, how will you bridge that gap?

All of these questions can be answered and issues can be overcome. But you will need to face them openly, honestly, and head-on. Families of blended races and ethnicities endure so much bigotry and bias. It is important to acknowledge that before a child is placed in your home. You will likely be asked all these questions by the adoption agency panel anyway, so you might as well start your soul searching now.

Adopting disabled children can introduce additional complexities as well:

  • Is your home accommodating to their special needs?
  • Do you have access to extra support and resources to help you navigate the mental or physical healthcare system?
  • Have you ever spent time with any children that have special needs?

You can absolutely learn and prepare for this experience, but it is imperative to enter this process fully informed. And there are numerous free resources out there to help you, based on the specifics of your situation. But it is up to you to get informed. Every child deserves a loving and well-prepared family.

After you are approved by the adoption agency panel, you will enter the placement process. For many adoptive parents this can be the most grueling step in their journey. It is at this stage that you are most likely to encounter institutionalized bigotry. Many agencies are still aligned with religious organizations, and bias can sometimes be part of their charter. So be prepared.

This part of the process sometimes feels like you are being asked to hurry up and wait. Some couples get placed within hours of their applications, while others wait months. The whole process can seem so random and crazy-making, as you navigate the Byzantine requirements and wait for the magic phone call telling you a child is ready to be placed in your home. In general, it is impossible to predict what you will face over the course of your adoption process, and no two situations are the same. So a certain amount of humor and equanimity will serve you well, as you try to roll with the punches.

In certain cases, you will be receiving a child who is currently residing with a foster family. And the easiest transitions are those in which the adoptive family and the foster family share values, and can even stay in contact. Even better if the birth family can retain some level of contact. So your child has a full sense of themselves, their story, and their place in the world.

GBTQ men have more options than ever before in having genetic connections with their babies. IVF and surrogacy is quickly becoming mainstream for both HIV+ and HIV- GBTQ men. But it’s still important you do your homework.

Here’s how the IVF and surrogacy process typically works:

  • You (or you and your partner) will provide sperm to a fertility clinic
  • A woman (not necessarily the gestational carrier) will donate her eggs
  • The fertility clinic will inseminate the woman’s eggs in order to create viable embryos
  • The fertility clinic will implant the embryos in the gestational carrier (not necessarily the egg donor)

That means as part of this process you be selecting the following:

  • Surrogacy Agency
  • Fertility Clinic
  • Egg Donor
  • Gestational Carrier

Surrogacy agencies in the US are largely unregulated. That means it’s very important to educate yourself on industry best practices when choosing an agency.

Any reputable agency should pre-screen all surrogacy candidates for the following:

  • A thorough psychological evaluation of both the gestational carrier candidate and her partner (husband, spouse, etc.)
  • Credit check of both the gestational carrier candidate and her partner
  • Criminal background check of both the gestational carrier candidate and her partner
  • Home visits with the gestational carrier candidate to ensure she will be living in a safe, clean, and comfortable environment during the gestation period
  • An examination of the gestational carrier candidate’s obstetrical history, to ensure there are no red flags or past pregnancy complications. When the agency presents her for the required screening to a fertility clinic as a potential candidate, you will want to know that the agency you hired as done in everything in its power to ensure the fertility clinic will feel comfortable about working with her from a medical perspective.

In addition to getting to know carrier candidates, any surrogacy agency you hire should also be trying to get to know you:

  • What are your values?
  • What are you looking for in a carrier?
  • What’s important to you?
  • How many embryos you would like to have transferred?
  • How many children do you envision having (are you hoping that the carrier might one day carry additional children for you, etc.)?

The agency you hire should make every attempt to match you with someone that shares your values. For instance, things like selective reduction and termination of a pregnancy if the baby is unhealthy are critical to establish up front. You can force women to comply with your requests, so it’s important to be on the same page as much as possible.

Selecting a fertility clinic is another critical step in the process. You will want to ensure you select a research-oriented clinic with a high success rate. Of course as a GBTQ man, you will want to ensure the clinic you select is gay-welcoming, with a focus on surrogacy. Remember: many clinics specialize in IVF treatments for heterosexual individuals and couples. What’s important here is that the clinic you select has significant experience with gestational carrier cycles.

Today HIV+ GBTQ men can absolutely have a genetic connection to their baby. If you are HIV+ your surrogacy journey is really not all that different from an HIV- man. Thankfully today many fertility clinics in the US are very welcoming to HIV+ men of all sexual orientations. But this should absolutely be part of your criteria when you research prospective clinics. Most of these clinics recommend that HIV+ men work with special programs that specialize in the transmission of HIV in semen. They are able to take steps to ensure that any semen used to create embryos in a participating clinic are free of HIV.

Family is tough. Always has been, always will be. And it’s no different for families involving GBTQ men. What’s important is that you take care of the love that sustains you. Whether that comes from members of your biological family, your chosen family, the family you build, or some combination. Nobody gets to dictate to you what your family should look like. It’s critical that you hold that boundary. Your family are those loved ones who know and hold your story. Who have your best interest at heart. Inspire you to do your greatest good. Walk with you for a lifetime. Claim you was one of their own. It’s nobody’s business what they look like, who their related to, or how they identify.

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Britt East

Inspirational writer, public speaker, and author of “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life”: britteast.com